If the holiday rush leaves you feeling a little less than cheery, you might want to strike out on a different path this year. A number of local agencies -- and the people who depend on them -- could benefit from your time, expertise and generosity, including the following:
Be a pal: For 66 consecutive years, The Asheville Optimist Club has collected toys and gifts through its Santa Pal program to provide needy children and their families with a merrier Christmas. This year is no exception. "The need has never been greater," says Maria Hinckle, this year's chairwoman. Donations and applications for help will be accepted 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through Dec. 14 at Santa Pal headquarters, 162 Coxe Ave. in Asheville.
For more info, call Santa Pal headquarters at 258-3230. Donations can be sent to: Santa Pal, P.O. Box 1912, Asheville, N.C., 28802.
Clothe a child: Hearts with Hands is seeking donations of winter coats for its "Koats For Kids" campaign, which aims to provide warm winter wear for 227 students in the Asheville and Buncombe County schools who otherwise would go without. Clean, used coats (with zippers, buttons and snaps in working condition) are needed in all sizes, from 10-12 months up to men's extra large. To sponsor a child, the agency recommends calling first to see what sizes are needed. Hearts with Hands is a nonprofit disaster-relief organization whose ministry is associated with Trinity Baptist Church.
For more info, call 667-1912 or (800) 726-9185. Donations can be taken to the agency's warehouse at 951 Sand Hill Road in Asheville. Contributions can be sent to: Hearts with Hands Inc., P.O. Box 6444, Asheville, N.C., 28816.
Share the bounty: In Hendersonville, volunteers with "Bounty for Bethlehem" served more than 4,000 Christmas Day dinners last year, says Pat Newell, the project's fund-raising-and-publicity chairwoman. The nondenominational volunteer organization would like to replicate that success this year. Volunteers are needed Dec. 22-26; a meeting for volunteers will be held at 10 a.m. on Dec. 15. Frozen turkeys (bigger than 16 lbs.), bone-in hams, desserts and unwrapped toys are also needed.
A musical fund-raiser will be held on Friday, Dec. 7 at the Cypress Cellar and Hannah Flanagan's in downtown Hendersonville, with local musicians performing pro bono.
For more info on the volunteer meeting, call 692-7228; for other info, call Newell at 891-5616. Donations can be sent to: Bounty of Bethlehem, P.O. Box 883, Hendersonville, NC 28793.
Lend a hand: The Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry needs volunteers Dec. 24-26 to help prepare and serve food at its men's shelter and at a new shelter for women and children, tentatively scheduled to open in mid-December. Volunteers are also being sought to answer the phones on Christmas Day, reports Jennifer Shoars, the nonprofit organization's volunteer coordinator. If your schedule won't allow for holiday volunteering, ABCCM could also use more folks to "adopt" families for the holidays as well as contribute menu items (such as ham, turkey and veggies) for holiday dinners. Other means of spreading cheer -- such as sponsoring shoeboxes filled with gifts for residents -- are also possible.
In addition, ABCCM is looking for volunteers to help gather, record and distribute Christmas donations as well as interview applicants for assistance.
For details, call Shoars at 259-5333 or the Volunteer Center of Asheville and Buncombe County at 255-0696.
Gather round the tree: Volunteers are needed through Dec. 26 to greet guests and accept donations for the Manna Food Bank at the Ingles Giving Tree in the Asheville Mall. Two volunteers are needed per shift (in blocks between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.). Manna focuses on gleaning, soliciting, storing and distributing food to charitable agencies involved in feeding the needy.
For more info or to schedule a time to volunteer, call Karen at 299-3663.
Look for guardian angels: The Salvation Army is seeking volunteers through Dec. 13 to staff their Angel Trees at the Asheville and Biltmore Square malls. Volunteers help people who want to provide gifts for needy children to "adopt" angels. Kids younger than 16 must volunteer with an adult at the Angel Trees.
The Salvation Army also needs additional holiday volunteers to do the following: ring a bell in front of stores to collect cash contributions; make stockings for kids; set up the toy store and Angel Tree gifts at the Salvation Army church; greet riders and help load toys at the Motorcycle Toy Run (Dec. 1); and distribute gifts and/or restock (Dec. 19).
For more info, call Kenny Griffin at 253-4723 or the Volunteer Center of Asheville and Buncombe County at 255-0696.
Plant a seed: Children First, a local nonprofit, is coordinating several events tied to their mission of improving the lives of children, youth and their families through collaboration, education, advocacy and policy development.
Barnes & Noble will sponsor a "giving tree" at its bookstore until Dec. 20. Patrons select a child's name from the tree and choose an appropriate book (offered at a 10 percent discount) for them. Barnes & Noble will wrap the book and store it until delivery. The program will benefit kids at two Children First programs -- the Emma Family Resource Center and the Isaac Dickson Family Room.
Dance the afternoon away: Blue Ridge Ballroom will host a special Holiday Dance on Sunday, Dec. 16 from 3-5 p.m.; proceeds will benefit Children First. First, the performance team will entertain; then, audience members will have a chance to dance up a storm. Tickets ($10) will be sold before the event and at the door.
For more info on Children First's programs and events, call 259-9717 or visit www.childrenfirstbc.org.
Help disadvantaged children: Pisgah Legal Services' Children's Law Project needs a boost. The project helps disadvantaged children get access to essential services and meet their basic needs. However, the nonprofit agency is facing a $100,000 shortfall for this calendar year and is especially in need of church and individual contributions to the project, as well as volunteers to help raise funds by signing letters to friends and neighbors requesting contributions.
"It's a small amount of time for them that makes a big difference in children's lives," says Executive Director Jim Barrett. "This recession is no time for Pisgah Legal Services to have to cut back on services."
Contributions are tax-deductible and may be mailed to: Pisgah Legal Services, P.O. Box 2276, Asheville, NC 28802. For more info, call Barrett at 253-0406.
Make a house homier: With the holidays comes wintry weather, and volunteers are needed to work with Mountain Housing Opportunities to build and improve homes, neighborhoods and communities for people with limited resources. Volunteers help low-income individual homeowners or families in Buncombe County. Carpentry experience is not required -- just safety consciousness and a desire to help a neighbor. MHO volunteers assist with various repairs, including making homes more accessible by fixing a porch or stairs, installing handrails, building a wheelchair ramp, repairing rotten flooring or replacing a leaking roof.
For more info or to arrange a time to volunteer, individuals or groups should contact David Sluder at 254-4030, ext. 19. For more info on MHO, check out www.mtnhousing.org
Fill a need: If you'd like to play Santa Claus to the YMCA of Western North Carolina, leaders there have a holiday wish list for you to peruse. It includes the following: a new van, a new bus, a new paper cutter, a vacuum cleaner, new "age appropriate" hardback children's books, a dresser/changing table with drawers, art supplies, durable kid-sized dress-up clothes, a coat rack, gliding rockers, a camera, soundproof fabric and flags for the pool area, computers, a scanner, a file cabinet, new chairs for the front-desk area, plenty of pens, locks with keys, and telephone headsets.
For more info, call the YMCA at 252-4726.
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